White Sheet, Pink Slip – Yes, You Can be Fired for Your Off-duty Behavior


You’ve no doubt heard about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on August 12. White nationalists gathered on Saturday for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville. Around 1:45 p.m., a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters and another car. One person was killed: Heather D. Heyer, 32, a paralegal from Charlottesville.

Events have moved at a rapid pace since then, but what I want to focus on is the fallout for the white nationalist who attended the March. If you’ve been following the news, you may know that the social media backlash for those attending the march has been swift and brutal. A man named Logan Smith from North Carolina got active on his Twitter account called @YesYoureRacist (started in 2012.) His purpose was to name and shame the alleged white supremacists who participated in the event.

To date, the account has 394,000 followers (up from around 64,000 before the Charlottesville incident.) Within hours of starting the account, Smith had identified two of the men at the event through photographs and notified their employers. Both men were fired within days. Peter Cvjetanovic, a 20-year-old college student at The University of Nevada Reno, was featured prominently in a journalist’s photograph. He says he was kicked out of school. (The school has not confirmed this publicly.)

In case you’re wondering, it’s perfectly legal for private companies to fire an employee for behavior and speech, even on personal time. Although the National Labor Relations Act protects individuals’ political advocacy during their own time in non-work areas, the key idea here is non-disruptive. “…the violent and disruptive nature of the protest removes all hope [a worker] and anyone else at the rally could hold for any employment protections,” writes Jon Hyman for workforce.com.

“I, as a private employer, have the right to hold my employees accountable for their viewpoints and terminate when I, in good faith, determine that those viewpoints may bleed into my workplace and create a hostile environment for other employees. I certainly have the right to fire when those viewpoints cross the line into violence or threats of violence,” he writes.

So here’s some advice to help you retain your job.

  1. Don’t do hateful things. Not on your lunch hour, not on your way home from work, not on your time off. This is a bad idea. Just don’t.
  2. Don’t assume your behavior is private. Ever. It’s not. It’s bad enough to be captured on shaky cell phone video. (Even your dad might fire you.) And it’s stupid to capture your own bad behavior on your own phone. But if you participate in an event that makes news, you’ll be photographed in exquisite detail by a professional photojournalist, and then be placed on the front page of a national news site. This is not a good look for anyone. Your coworkers, your boss, and your mom will see your picture. Bad things will happen.
  3. If you do hateful things and risk getting your photo taken, expect to be fired. The First Amendment only protects speech against the government. Your company can, and will, fire you, because your company cares about its brand, even if you don’t care about yours. Your company will not want its brand to be associated with Nazi sympathizers. Ever.
  4. Don’t do hateful things. This will help you keep your job. Because social media has a long memory, and very few employers will take a chance on hiring you after you’ve become famous for carrying a torch or other unpleasant behavior.

Mic drop.

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One thought on “White Sheet, Pink Slip – Yes, You Can be Fired for Your Off-duty Behavior

  1. (Pardon my opening pun.) I “salute” you for writing this post. I’ve spent a lot of my life considering this topic. I’ve found no definitive answer.

    To readers I suggest the following books:

    “1984” by George Orwell. (Never read it, but the book is part of our cultural history, even if, the contents are often ignored in the real world.)

    “Inside The Third Reich” by Albert Speer. (At the end of this remarkable, yet haunting autobiography, of a one time Nazi, who calls himself Hitler’s friend, is a final section, warning of the dangers of techocrats and technology. Speer came to recognize this human flaw, in himself. He foresaw the dangers of the internet, Facebook, iPhones,Twitter, drones, corporations, and government, and how they can intertwine to our harm.)

    “The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany” by William L. Shirer. (Most readers will view some parts of this book as dated, but it’s the tale of how a civilized country, turned into one of the most uncivilized regimes in human history, coming close to conquering half the world or whole world, with Japan. Shirer was there to see it, until expelled as the war was to begin. It might serve as a worthy lesson for America.)

    These book suggestions, if read with focus and thoughtfulness, are a much better reply, than the one I’ve been working on. The post is very well written, with the intent of the author fulfilled. Yet, this post is wonderfully disturbing. In closing, I repeat, I’ve found no definitive answer. There is no criticism. Just a thought we must do better. Corporations are political, ethical, and moral entities. Today perhaps, more than ever. Their GroupThink is fallible. Great post!

    Like

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